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The Best Ultralight Backpacks of 2019

The Best Ultralight Backpacks of 2019

By Michael Lanza

Do you need an ultralight backpack? Many backpackers might answer “no” when their answer should logically be “yes.” These packs aren’t just for thru-hikers. Typically weighing between two and 2.5 pounds empty, ultralight packs have support for carrying 25 to 35 pounds. For many backpackers, that represents the range of pack weight they either carry on most trips—or could carry on most trips, with smart packing and reasonably light gear.

In other words, an ultralight pack just may be perfect for you. And here are the best ones out there today.

As I wrote in my “Top 5 Tips For Buying the Right Backpacking Pack,” when ultralight backpacking, I want a lightweight backpack with minimal features like pockets and zippers. Still, I like the convenience of quick access for some items, like a lid, side, and/or hipbelt pockets for snacks, map, sunglasses, and sunblock, and a mesh front pocket where I can stuff items like a jacket.

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The pack you choose will depend on personal preferences regarding design features, price, weight, and capacity.

There are several backpacks that stand out in this category.

The Osprey Exos 58 backpack in Glacier National Park.
Testing the Osprey Exos 58 backpack in Glacier National Park. Click on the photo to see my picks for the 10 best backpacking packs.

The Osprey Exos 58 ($220, 2 lbs. 11 oz.) or Exos 48 ($200, 2 lbs. 5 oz.), and women’s Eja 58 and Eja 48, have long ranked among the best ultralight backpacks. I’ve used and liked the Exos 58 a lot since it first came out in 2008, including on a four-day, 86-mile backpacking trip in Yosemite National Park and on a weeklong hut trek in Italy’s Dolomite Mountains, and I more recently took the updated 2018 version of the Exos 58 on a six-day, 94-mile hike through Glacier National Park.

The top-loading Exos and Eja carry 30 pounds or more comfortably thanks to an alloy perimeter frame and a pronounced bell shape that transfer much of the pack weight onto your hips, where you want it, and they have the capacity for weeklong trips and ultralight thru-hiking. Their trampoline-style back panel permits cooling air circulation. At just over 2.5 pounds, they have smart features like good compression, a removable lid, voluminous exterior pockets, and a handy trekking poles attachment on the left shoulder strap.

Read my review of the 2018 versions of the Osprey Exos 58 and Eja 58.

Also worthy of a close look are Osprey’s “super ultralight” packs, the men’s Levity 60 and the women’s Lumina 60 ($270, 1.9 lbs.), which Osprey says carry up to 25 pounds. There are smaller sizes, the Levity 45 and Lumina 45 ($250, 1.8 lbs.). Osprey says these packs are definitely for committed ultralighters, primarily thru-hikers who are carrying extremely minimalist kits—in other words, for lighter loads than the Exos/Eja.

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The Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Windrider backpack in the Wind River Range.
The Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Windrider backpack in the Wind River Range.

The Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Windrider ($340) weighs just two pounds, has removable aluminum stays and a harness system that I found comfortable carrying 30 to 35 pounds, and is made with waterproof (and practically bulletproof) Dyneema fabric. Its minimalist design features three roomy, exterior mesh pockets and zippered hipbelt pockets, and a roll-top closure with top and side compression for stabilizing under-filled loads. For its weight, it offers unique carrying comfort and capacity for long trips.

Read my complete review of the 3400 Windrider.

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The Gregory Optic 58 ultralight backpack in the Grand Canyon.
The Gregory Optic 58 ultralight backpack in the Grand Canyon.

The Gregory men’s Optic 58 and women’s Octal 55 ($210, 2 lbs. 7 oz.), and the smaller Optic 48 and Octal 45 ($190), are designed for backpackers who want to go ultralight without switching to a stripped-down style of backpack. I found it comfortable carrying 30 to 35 pounds backpacking the Grand Canyon’s rugged Thunder River-Deer Creek Loop off the North Rim.

These packs sport six external pockets, including two on the hipbelt and a large, stretch-mesh front pocket, and useful features like a quick attachment on the left shoulder strap for trekking poles or sunglasses. Gregory’s attention to comfort in its first ultralight backpack is reflected in the aluminum perimeter wire with an HDPE framesheet and leaf-spring lumbar pad, which distributes most of the pack’s load across the hips and delivers support for carrying 30 to 35 pounds; and the trampoline-style Aerospan suspension, a tensioned, highly ventilated back panel that allows allow air movement across your sweaty back.

Read my review of the Gregory Optic 58 and Octal 55.

Plan your next great backpacking adventure in Yosemite and other flagship parks using my expert e-guides.

Sierra Designs Flex Capacitor 40-60 backpack.
Sierra Designs Flex Capacitor 40-60 backpack on the Tour du Mont Blanc.

The signature feature of the Sierra Designs Flex Capacitor 40-60 ($200) is a compression system that allows you to alter the pack’s capacity to fit whatever you’re carrying, making it more stable with a small load. At 2 lbs. 9 oz., it’s heavier than others but still a legitimate ultralight backpack, and I’ve found it comfortable hauling 30 to 35 pounds, thanks in part to a sturdier (though still streamlined) hipbelt than is found in some ultralight packs. It has quick, one-zipper access to the main compartment, and five external pockets (lid, side, and hipbelt).

Read my review of the Flex Capacitor 40-60.

REI Flash 45
The REI Flash 45 in Utah’s Dark Canyon Wilderness.

The REI Flash 45 ($149) is not only a steal, but it sports nice design features for ultralight backpacking, including six external pockets; it also weighs close to three pounds, heavier than others listed here. A steel, internal perimeter frame with one horizontal stay, plus a contoured hipbelt and well-padded shoulder straps make it comfortable carrying 25 to 30 pounds, and REI’s UpLift compression system squeezes the load from the bottom to draw it closer to your hips. The larger version is the Flash 55.

Read my complete review of the Flash 45.

The ULA Circuit ($255) weighs in at 2 lbs. 9 oz., but it’s spacious at 68 liters, and its roll-top closure extends farther than many competitors, giving you more capacity when needed. With a carbon fiber and Delrin suspension, a dense foam frame and an aluminum stay, it will carry up to 35 pounds, and the hipbelt and shoulder straps come in multiple sizes for customizing the fit for men or women. ULA’s 400 Robic fabric is highly durable, and the pack has a huge external front pocket.

The Gossamer Gear Mariposa 60 ($225) has more capacity than many two-pound packs, comes in a wide range of torso lengths and hipbelt sizes, and has side pockets made of more-durable fabric, rather than mesh. It has a removable internal frame and seven pockets, and comes in three torso and three hipbelt sizes.

Depending on how much weight you intend to carry, another, more-versatile backpack that weighs just a half-pound more than some of these, yet carries significantly more weight, is the Granite Gear Blaze 60. Read my review of it.

See all of my backpack reviews and my review of the 10 best packs for backpacking, although some range from around three-and-a-half pounds to five pounds.

See also my “5 Tips For Buying the Right Backpack,” “Video: How to Load a Backpack,” all of my reviews of backpacking gear, ultralight backpacking gear, backpacking tents, hiking shoes, sleeping bags, and sleeping pads, and my Gear Reviews page at The Big Outside for numerous stories with my picks for best gear and tips on buying gear.

Want to make your pack lighter and all of your backpacking trips more enjoyable? See my story A Practical Guide to Lightweight and Ultralight Backpacking.” If you don’t have a paid subscription to The Big Outside, you can read part of that story for free, or click here to download that full story without having a paid membership.

Tell me what you think.

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About The Author

Michael Lanza

A former field editor and primary gear reviewer for Backpacker Magazine, Michael Lanza created The Big Outside to share stories and images from his many backpacking, hiking, and other outdoor adventures, as well as expert tips and gear reviews to help readers plan and pull off their own great adventures.


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  1. Avatar


    Last November (2018) I ‘downsized’ from my beloved custom made McHale to a HMG Southwest 4400. Close to the same volume 70 litres but more than five pounds lighter. The suspensions are similar with a pretty basic but very effective hip belt. The 4400 does not have load lifters which I have not missed. Adapting to the roll top vs a lid or brain has proven easy with the big pockets. I did add two water bottle holsters as I prefer them over bladders.

    I have now done close to 50 day hikes up to about to 7 hours with 35-40 lbs. the HMG is performing amazingly. I love the simplicity and adjustability of the simple bag and roll top. I also use the HMG Pods which are more space efficient than stuff sacks. And after 7 hours in a constant West Coast ‘rain hike’ there was not a drop of moisture inside. Plus no rain cover to deal with.

    I prefer packs that snug to my body. Yes I perspire under the pack but the system works. I have tried the air suspension systems from Osprey, Deuter and Gregory, the new Arc’teryx Bora. I can’t find a comfortable fit and constantly like I am being pulled backwards.

    HMG, in my view, have a winning formula.

    • Michael Lanza

      Thanks for that report, John. As you probably know but for the benefit of other readers, the 2400 Southwest uses the same basic design of the 3400 Windrider that I review in this article, and has the volume for lightweight backpacking trips. An awesome pack. Keep posting your reports, and thanks for that.

  2. Avatar

    When it comes to backpacks on hiking, I would recommend Osprey Atmos 65 because of its capacity and durableness. Its price is affordable also.
    Thank you for your suggestion and please keep it up.

    • MichaelALanza

      Thanks for the suggestion, Lisa. I’m a fan of the older Atmos 65, which was lighter, as well as the newest update of the Atmos, the Atmos 65 AG. However, that pack is a bit heavier now and really built for carrying heavier loads. That’s why it and the women’s Aura 65 AG are on my list of The 10 Best Packs for Backpacking ( I prefer a lighter pack for thru-hiking or any ultralight or lightweight backpacking.

  3. Avatar

    I’ve got the Talon 44 & Stratos 34. Love both, but am looking for something alittle bigger for some really long hikes. I still want light as I can get tho. Just tried on both the Exos 58 and Atmos AG 65 at the local EMS. The Atmos felt better with more weight compared to the Exos, which makes sense. But I really dug the way both felt. My only gripe with the Atmos is that I hit my head on the metal frame whenever I tilted my head back even alittle bit. I’m a big guy. 6’4″ & 230lbs so I tried on the large. The Exos frame didn’t hit my head at all when looking up. But I loved the way the Atmos hugged my body and carried heavier loads like nothing. So I’m torn. Get the Exos & be able to look up. Lol. Or get the Atmos and be able to carry more better. Hmm.

    • michaellanza

      Hi Regan, I understand your dilemma, the Atmos AG 65 and Exos 58 are certainly both great packs, but for different purposes. Besides deciding based on how each fits your torso, I think your question comes down to how much weight you intend to usually carry: 30 pounds or less? Go with the Exos. 40 to 50 pounds? You want the Atmos. I suggest you know the weight of your usual gear, food, etc., before making that decision.

  4. Avatar

    I used the Exos 58 on the Camino de Santiago last April- GREAT PACK!

    • michaellanza

      Yes, Edward, I’m sure it was excellent for the Camino. I’ve heard really good things about that trek.


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Hi, I’m Michael Lanza, creator of The Big Outside and former Northwest Editor at Backpacker magazine. Click my photo to learn more about me and my blog. Click here to sign up for my FREE email newsletter. Join The Big Outside now to get full access to all of my blog’s stories. And click here to learn how I can help you plan your next trip.

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